Which would you rather have peace or justice? Perhaps you are wondering why we can’t have both. Or questioning if you can really have peace without justice.
But if you had to choose, which one would you choose?
This question came to mind as I heard the verdict of Charles Taylor given by the International Tribunal in Hague. Who is Charles Taylor? I probably would have been asking the same question if I had not spent time in Liberia.
Charles Taylor is a former president of Liberia, who was just sentenced to 50 year for war crimes committed against Sierra Leone.
Let me give you a brief synopsis of Taylor’s life. He was born in Liberia and attended college in the U.S. In 1989 Taylor led a rebellion in Liberia to topple the head of the Liberian government, President Doe. This event started Liberia’s on-and-off 14 years of civil war. Even though Taylor took over the presidency in 1997, he and his soldiers continued their violence with the power of the Liberian government behind them. During this time period, Taylor also was accused of masterminding the conflict in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone where he supported and trained Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for diamonds.
A REIGN OF TERROR
Soldiers who followed Taylor were known for their brutality and reign of terror. Taylor allowed his minions to rape, mutilate, and kill women and children. His soldiers would amputate civilians’ arms asking them if they would like a long sleeve (above the hand) or a short sleeve (above the elbow) amputation. This atrocity was even leveled against children to keep their parent’s in line. His soldiers also coerced young children to fight in the war plying them with drugs, brainwashing them, and then giving them guns.
Years later, Taylor was convicted of aiding and abetting Sierra Leone rebels and committing atrocious crimes against humanity. Even though he carried on the same brutality in Liberia he will never be prosecuted for these crimes.
Why? As part of the peace agreement at the end of Liberia’s civil war, Taylor agreed to step down as president in exchange for never being tried for war crimes committed against Liberians.
THE DAY OF HIS CONVICTION
When I was in Liberia on the day of Taylor’s conviction people were listening to their radios to see how justice would be served. I wondered how the Liberians were feeling when Taylor was sentenced for war crimes in Sierra Leone, yet knowing he would never be tried in Liberia. What was the reaction of the Liberian women who had been raped or had watched their relatives killed before their eyes – was the price of peace enough? Did the women who watched their children being carried off to serve as child soldiers or as soldiers’ “war brides” feel like justice has been served because of the Sierra Leone verdict?
A LIBERIAN’S STORY
When I ponder if peace is enough without justice, I think of Jennifer Prestholdt’s blog, The Human Rights Warrior. Jennifer worked for three years with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia and heard many testimonies about Taylor’ brutal crimes. In one of her blog’s she tells a story of a Liberian family who experienced Taylor’s violence. Soldiers came to the family’s house and beat and stabbed many of the family members. The parents watched as the soldiers killed the grandfather, made their two sons drink dirty water in which a soldier had urinated, and worst of all had to watch as their 13 year old daughter was raped and then was beheaded in front of them.
As I contemplate this horrific story, I wonder if I had been one of the parents if I would have been satisfied with letting Taylor leave the country, knowing that he would never be tried for the crimes he committed against my family. I think I might have protested, “How can we truly find peace until this man and his soldiers are brought to trial for their crimes against Liberians? Against my family!”
There are no easy answers or fixes to the issue of peace and justice. As a Christian woman, I have to ask myself what scripture teaches me? In the Psalms, David often poured his heart out to God about the lack of peace or justice. He used colorful and disparaging language as he wrote about his enemies, often wishing for their demise. Near the end of one beautifully written Psalm, David abruptly displays his anger and pens,
O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! They blaspheme you; your enemies misuse your name. O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you? Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you? Yes, I hate them with total hatred, for your enemies are my enemies.
Psalms 139:19-22 (NLT)
I don’t know about you, but reading David’s words of anger helps me understand that God already knows our heart, and He invites us to come to Him and express our anger, hurt, and despair. From reading through the book of Psalms, it also seems to me that it is in our spiritual DNA to want both peace and justice and to be cry those who do us wrong.
However, I also know after being in Rwanda, D.R. Congo, Darfur, Liberia and other African countries that peace and justice are not a “given.” As Christians we need to strive for both, but in this fallen world sometimes we ultimately have to turn it over to God. David comes to this conclusion in Psalms 37.
Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither. Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper – it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.
Psalms 37:1-7 (NLT)
What is a Think Through? It is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.
Please pray for the people who live in places where there is ongoing conflict and where they despair that they will never know peace or justice. Pray for God’s intervening hand. To name a few: South Sudan, Darfur, D.R. Congo, Mali, Somalia, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Maybe God is calling you to specifically pray for one of these countries on a continual basis.
By the way, which would you rather have peace or justice?